Transporting Tar Sands Oil

(Part 2)

  • The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the Enbridge pipeline broke. (Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan)

The Enbridge pipeline that broke and spilled into the Kalamazoo River last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil. In part two of our series on regulating pipelines, Julie Grant looks at the transport of tar sands oil from Alberta:

The Canadian company Enbridge says it ships both conventional crude, and tar sands oil through its pipelines. Spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says in recent years they’ve been getting an increasing amount of tar sands oil.

“Because there’s being more produced, and there’s more of a demand for it in the United States.”

This increase in tar sands oil transport worries environmentalists and pipeline safety advocates. Anthony Swift is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He co-authored a report called Tar Sands Safety Risks.

The report says raw tar sands oil has as much 20-times more acid and is more corrosive than traditional crude oil. Swift says transporting this type of oil could lead to more pipeline breaks.

Listen to the first part of this series on tar sands oil

Association of Oil Pipelines

The NRDC report on tar sands oil


He says while tar sands oil is relatively new to U.S. pipelines, its been flowing through Canadian pipelines much longer.

“We did kind of a mile by mile comparison of the Alberta pipeline system to the U.S. pipeline system. And we found that the Alberta pipeline system had 16 times as many leaks of 26 gallons or greater than the U.S. system per pipeline mile.”

Swift says the Alberta pipelines had more leaks, even though it’s a newer system.

He wants the U.S. government to study raw tar sands oil before allowing more of it to flow into the U.S.

The federal government approved two permits in recent years for the construction of new pipelines from the Alberta tar sands into the U.S. Andy Black is president of the Association of Oil Pipelines. He says tar sands oil is no different than other heavy crudes. And he says the government stamp of approval means tar sands oil can safely flow through the pipes…

“In neither of those cases have the government agencies suggested that the product was any more corrosive, and they haven’t required any conditions to accommodate this alleged increased corrosivity.”

But we couldn’t figure out how the federal government decided that raw tar sands oil is safe to send through the pipelines.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, called PHMSA, is the federal agency that monitors pipelines. PHMSA declined to be interviewed for this story. But in an email, the agency said tar sands oil is regulated the same as any other hazardous liquid, such as light crude or gasoline. They said all hazardous liquids have to meet federal standards. PHMSA sent us to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for more information. A spokesperson at FERC says they don’t regulate what flows through the pipelines. They sent us back to PHMSA.

The U.S. State Department decides whether a pipeline can cross the Canadian border into the U.S. But they declined to comment for this story.

Lorraine Grymala, the spokesperon at Enbridge, did offer some answers…

“There’s a technical standards group, maybe that’s the best way to put it, that basically are the ones that dictate what can go in the line, what’s safe to go in the line.”

Grymala says this group is called the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. It is a trade group representing the oil and gas industries. So, she’s saying that in Canada the oil and gas industries decide what’s safe to put through the lines.

The Canadian government also has oversight. In an email, a spokesperson for the Canadian National Energy Board said they need to know what’s going to flow through a pipeline before they approve its operation. But like in the U.S., Canada does not distinguish between raw tar sands oil and other heavy crudes in the pipelines.

Environmental and pipeline safety groups are urging the U.S. government to spend more time studying tar sands oil, and the effect it might be having on the nation’s aging pipeline system.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Tar Sands Oil & Michigan Pipelines (Part 1)

  • Dick Denuyl and his neighbor, Tom Philp, live along the St. Clair River. Philp is a pipeline inspector. (Photo by Suzy Vuljevic)

The pipeline break that spilled more than 840,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River last summer is still being cleaned up. It has left some Michigan residents with questions about the safety of sending heavy crude oil through those lines. In part one of our series on regulating pipelines, Julie Grant looks at concerns about inspections in Michigan:

Dick Denuyl is a retired school teacher in Marysville. When he bought his home along the St. Clair River, he loved the beautiful setting. And he wasn’t worried about the pipelines running under the water.

“I really never gave it much of a thought, until the one in California blew up, the high pressure gas line, destroyed a city block. And then the one, the Enbridge pipeline that broke and polluted the Kalamazoo river.”

The official cause of the Kalamazoo River oil spill is still under federal investigation. Enbridge officials say they also found a 12-inch dent in that same pipeline, this time in a section under the St. Clair River. Company spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the dent did not cause any problems:

“Based on the internal inspection data, there really wasn’t, we were not concerned it was going to be an issue for the line, but it’s better to take more precaution then less, and so we did work to replace that section of the line.”

Actually, the federal government ordered Enbridge to replace that section of the pipeline. The company says the work will be complete by the end of June.

Dick Denuyl’s neighbor in Marysville is a pipeline inspector. Tom Philp does inspections for a company called Nova Chemicals. Philp says when he’s inspecting the Nova pipeline, he walks a few miles from his house along the St. Clair River to an oil refinery.

Environment Report story: Oil Lingers in Kalamazoo River

Environment Report story: Health Concerns After Oil Spill

A related article


“I do it every two weeks. I just look for any possible leakage, like through stained grass, or bubbling, or anything like that.”

Enbridge also runs a pipeline along his route:

“There is another pipeline that runs parallel with the Nova lines, and I have yet to see an inspector.”

“We have thousands of miles of right of ways, so the likelihood that you’re going to run into one person is probably not very good.”

Enbridge spokesperson Lorraine Grymala says the company does a variety of pipeline inspections. They use special tools to look inside the pipes for cracks, corrosion, and dents. They do aerial inspections. And they have crews on the ground, inspecting like Mr. Philp does.

The government does have some oversight on pipeline inspections. But here’s where things get complicated.

The Michigan Public Service Commission oversees natural gas pipelines that flow entirely within the state’s borders. But no state agency regulates oil pipelines that flow entirely in Michigan.

PHMSA, the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration, is the federal agency in charge of monitoring pipelines that run across state borders. PHMSA declined an interview for this story. In an email, PHMSA says it does some of its own inspections. But it has only 110 inspectors to keep track of 2.3 million miles of pipelines nationwide. PHMSA says it inspects the companies and enforces compliance.

Susan Harley says the government is leaving the fox in charge of the hen house. Harley is policy director for Clean Water Action in Michigan. She’s concerned that the companies are largely responsible for inspecting their own pipelines:

“It really is an operator inspection program, versus the government having oversight authority. The state doesn’t even have a hand in ensuring that these pipelines are being operated safely and inspected frequently.”

Harley doesn’t expect that to change, because of the tight state budget. Meanwhile, Enbridge has announced that it will replace 75 miles of pipeline in Indiana and Michigan.

For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

RW: On Thursday, Julie takes a closer look at the transport of tar sands oil.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Pipeline Safety & Deer Baiting Ban

  • Baiting deer with corn, apples, sugar beets or carrots has been banned for three years in the Lower Peninsula. (Photo by Scott Bauer - USDA)

The people who operate oil and gas pipelines – and the people who regulate them – met in Washington D.C. yesterday.

The forum on pipeline safety was triggered by last summer’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River and two fatal gas line explosions in California and Pennsylvania.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says current regulations need to be stronger.

“Look it, we get it. We know these pipeline breaks and explosions cause a lot of, in the case of Michigan, a lot of environmental degradation. So we’re stepping up on our side of things and we’re going to use the bully pulpit to make sure the companies do the same.”

Secretary LaHood wants to increase fines for companies that violate safety rules.

Representatives of the gas and oil pipeline industries both said they are working toward a goal of zero accidents.

(music sting)

This is the Environment Report.

Baiting deer is the subject of lots of debate in Lansing this month. There’s a ban on feeding deer in the Lower Peninsula that could be lifted in June. The restriction was a response to the discovery of chronic wasting disease in one deer in 2008. But no more sick animals have been found and the pressure is growing to let hunters bait wild deer. Peter Payette reports:


For at least a half century hunters in Michigan have put out corn, sugar beets, carrots and other vegetables to attract deer in the fall. When baiting was banned in Lower Michigan three years ago, a state hotline was flooded with calls from people reporting neighbors.

Almost 600 tickets were issued.

But now phone calls and tickets are fewer.

Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement Dean Molnar thinks people are tired of the ban and less inclined to report illegal baiting.

Molnar recently told the Natural Resources Commission hunters are also working hard to avoid being caught.

“They’re finding that the bait is being cut up and chopped. We’ve had some reports of people actually buying juicers and are juicing their beets and their carrots and spreading the pulp out as you would with apple mash after it was going through the cider process.”

Wildlife biologists generally agree it’s a bad idea to feed wild deer. Setting out a pile of food causes them to congregate in ways they usually wouldn’t. And that can spread diseases like bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.

Many hunters recognize this and oppose baiting.

Kevin Gould from Ionia County told the commission disease is just one reason not to allow baiting.

“I see huge benefits for us not baiting deer. One it increases the number of hours and days in the woods. I think that’s a huge benefit. Be out in the woods longer to harvest that deer. Be more selective. Learn about the environment. Huge benefit.”

But many other hunters want to bait, especially in northern Lower Michigan.

Deer are most plentiful in the southern part of the state and in the UP baiting is still allowed. But up north lots of people hunt on land where deer are scarce. Some corn or a few apples can improve their chances of seeing a deer on opening day.

Don Inman thinks it should be allowed. He’s a retired conservation officer who lives in Presque Isle County. The baiting ban has been around there longer because of bovine tuberculosis. Inman says the ban hurts the sport of hunting.

“There’s no question that the number of hunters that have been coming up here has gone down.”

Inman thinks concerns about diseases might be overstated. And he says small amounts of bait don’t attract big crowds of deer.

“From my experience and all my friends too who have hunted in this area and hunted here when bait was legal, we very seldom saw like four deer. We put out a coffee can of corn and spread it around.”

So far the state’s largest conservation group, Michigan United Conservation clubs is opposed to lifting the ban. But MUCC recently held a panel discussion to explore the issue at the request of its members.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

And that’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Health Concerns After the Oil Spill (Part 2)

  • The Kalamazoo River on July 30, 2010, after the Enbridge pipeline broke. (Photo courtesy of the State of Michigan)

Waiting to find out if there are long term health effects from the Enbridge oil spill…

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Until last July, many people in Marshall had no idea an oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ran underneath their town.

Then, it broke. More than 840,000 gallons of thick, black oil from the Canadian tar sands poured into the Kalamazoo River.

“I think I can sum it up in one word and that is nightmare.”

Deb Miller lives just 50 feet from the Kalamazoo River.

“The smell, I don’t even know how to describe the smell, there are no words. You could not be outside.”

Miller and her husband Ken own a carpet store. It’s right above the Ceresco Dam, about 20 feet from the River. So she couldn’t escape the oil spill by going to the store.

“The headaches were just absolutely intense, watering eyes. The cough, it was chronic.”

She says the daily headaches and coughing lasted for months.

And many of her neighbors felt the same way.

Part 1 of this series

The Michigan Dept of Community Health report

The NRDC report


Last fall, the Michigan Department of Community Health issued a report on acute health effects of the oil spill. The report says headaches, nausea and respiratory symptoms were the most common problems. Some people reported rashes. The report says that’s consistent with what you’d expect for short term health effects from an oil spill.

But many people are wondering if the chemicals they may have been exposed to from the oil will affect them later on.

Paul Makoski is an environmental health manager with the Calhoun County Health Department.

“We had residents that were exposed to any number of chemicals and substances that are certainly not in their everyday exposure. What effect those have in the amount that they were in the environment is still the great unknown and that’s why we’re still trying to find somebody with that expertise who can help us with that.”

He says the health department is just in the beginning stages of considering a long term health study. They haven’t yet approached Enbridge to ask them to pay for a study.

The type of oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River was diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a type of oil that comes from tar sands. It’s a very thick oil, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines. It’s often diluted with natural gas condensate.

Anthony Swift is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He’s an author of a recent NRDC report on the risks of tar sands oil.

“Part of the difficulty is there are so many different toxins in diluted bitumen, each has its own rap sheet of symptoms. But several of them are carcinogenic, you have heavy metals that have all sorts of different systemic risks to various organ systems.”

He says bitumen has significantly higher concentrations of mercury, arsenic, and chromium than conventional crude. But he says there haven’t been any academic studies on the long term health effects of diluted bitumen… so there are many unknowns.

Lorraine Grymala is a spokesperson with Enbridge. She says Enbridge has put together a panel to review medical claims.

“You know, Enbridge’s business is energy transportation, that’s what we know, that’s what we’re good at, and when it comes to evaluating the validity of medical claims that’s out of our realm of understanding.”

But some residents worry when the oil spill is declared cleaned up… they’ll be forgotten about.

Susan Connolly lives in Marshall with her family. She says she’s concerned about her 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter.

“If my son or daughter becomes ill, I will track you down. The government needs to step up and enforce Enbridge to pay for a long term health study. Make them do it!”

There is a precedent for this now. Some of the people affected by the BP spill in the Gulf will be getting a long term health study. The National Institutes of Health has launched a 10-year study of 55,000 cleanup workers and volunteers. BP chipped in $10 million for a portion of that study.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Oil Lingers in Kalamazoo River (Part 1)

  • A Great Blue Heron covered in oil after the rupture of Enbridge's Line 6B near Marshall in July 2010. (Photo courtesy of EPA Region 5)

It was one of the largest oil spills in the Midwest… and it’s not over yet.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Crews are still cleaning up from last July’s oil spill in the Kalamazoo River. An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners ruptured… and spilled more than 840,000 gallons of heavy crude. The oil polluted Talmadge Creek and more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency say most of that oil has been sucked out of the river… and tens of thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil have been removed.

But the work is far from done.

(heavy machinery sounds)

Mark Durno is the Deputy Incident Commander with the EPA. He’s overseeing the cleanup teams.
He’s standing on the bank of the Kalamazoo River. Dump trucks and loaders rumble over a bridge out to an island in the river.

“The islands were heavily contaminated, we didn’t expect to see as much oil as we did. If you’d shovel down into the islands you’d see oil pool into the holes we’d dig.”

Workers are scooping out contaminated soil… hauling it to a staging area and shipping it off site.

Mark Durno says the weather will dictate what happens next. He says heavy rainstorms will probably move oil around. They won’t know how much more cleanup work they’ll have to do until they finish their spring assessment.

“Once the heavy rains recede, we’ll do an assessment over the entire stretch of river to determine whether there are substantial amounts of submerged oil in sediments that still exist in the system.”


He says if they find a lot of oil at the bottom of the river… the crews will have to remove it.

Reports that Enbridge submitted to the EPA and the state of Michigan show the type of oil spilled in the Kalamazoo River was diluted bitumen. Bitumen is a type of oil that comes from tar sands. It’s a very thick oil, and it has to be diluted in order to move through pipelines.

Mark Durno says the nature of the oil is making the clean up more difficult.

“I truly believe the characteristics of this material is the reason we still have such a heavy operation out here. Because it was a very heavy crude, we ended up with a lot more submerged oil than we anticipated having to deal with.”

He says the cleanup could continue for another year. But that doesn’t include restoration of habitat, and that’ll take even longer. And workers will not be able to clean up every last drop of oil. Mark Durno says that’s not feasible… and it would mean damaging sensitive habitats. So he says it’s possible some oil will turn up years down the road. Right now… more than 30 miles of the Kalamazoo River down to Morrow Lake are closed to the public. No fishing. No boating. No swimming.

The official cause of the oil spill is still under federal investigation.

Susan Hedman is the EPA Administrator for Region 5. She says Enbridge won’t be fined until the investigation is done.

“We are committed to holding Enbridge accountable. Not a single penny of taxpayer money will be used to recover this spill.”

Enbridge noted in its annual report that the cleanup has cost $550 million dollars so far.

Lorraine Grymala is a spokesperson with Enbridge.

“We expect the majority of that to be recovered through insurance. That $550 million doesn’t include fines or penalties or lawsuits related to the incident.”

She says Enbridge spends millions every year to monitor their pipelines for safety.

The pipeline that broke in Marshall is part of Enbridge’s Lakehead system. The system stretches from North Dakota across Michigan into New York. Over the past decade, the federal government has documented 83 spills and other safety problems on the Lakehead System.

The pipeline system is more than 60 years old. EPA’s Mark Durno says that’s been on his mind a lot lately.

“We know this is an aging pipeline system, so we’re prepared for more frequent spills of this nature. We hope that we don’t but we have to be prepared to do it.”

On Thursday, we’ll hear from people who have been directly affected by the oil spill and their worries about long term health effects.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Industrial Boilers & New Report on Oil and Gas Pipelines

  • The Au Sable River. (Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appears to have missed
yesterday’s court-ordered deadline to issue a new rule regulating industrial boilers. There are about 60 boilers in Michigan which provide power for chemical plants and paper mills. As Tracy Samilton reports, the rule is likely to become a political football – when it is issued:

Mike Garfield of the Ecology Center says boilers release lead, mercury, and fine particulates – just like their larger cousins, coal-burning power plants. He says pollution scrubbing equipment on the boilers could save lives.

“The EPA has calculated the new pollution control requirements will prevent nearly 5,000 deaths a year.”

But industry lobbyists said the expense of the equipment will mean lost manufacturing jobs. A group of U.S. Senators says they’re planning to draft a bill to give the EPA more time to improve the rule, so it protects public health without hurting the economy.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.


This is the Environment Report.

The Anglers of the Au Sable has a new report that details the group’s concerns over oil and gas pipelines in northern Michigan. They’re especially worried about protecting the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers.

Read the report

A related Environment Report story

Enbridge website about the Kalamazoo River spill


John Bebow is with the Anglers group. He says they started investigating pipelines after the major oil spill last summer in the Kalamazoo River. A pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners broke… and spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the river.

“And we quickly determined an even bigger pipeline owned by the same company flows under the Au Sable and its tributaries numerous times.”

That pipeline is called Line 5. It’s the largest oil pipeline in the Midwest… and it goes through the very heart of the Au Sable watershed. The report notes that Line 5 carries as much as 22 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids beneath the Au Sable River every day.

John Bebow calls the Au Sable a world class trout stream. He says if there were an oil spill… it would be devastating.

“The Au Sable River is a major magnet for tourism and recreation. It is a river life up there.”

Bebow says they have serious concerns about a potential oil spill. But he says his group’s been surprised at how responsive Enbridge has been.

He says the company is planning to put in a new remote controlled valve on Line 5 that would help stop the flow of oil into the river in the case of a spill. Bebow says Enbridge is also running mock disaster exercises on Line 5.

The Anglers group also investigated natural gas pipelines in Michigan. They’re worried if there was a big rupture and it ignited, it could start a devastating forest fire. The Anglers report notes that the state of Michigan has just six inspectors to oversee 65,000 miles of pipelines.

Here’s where the Anglers ran into trouble. They wanted to find out the condition of the pipelines in northern Michigan where the Au Sable and Manistee Rivers flow. So, they filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Michigan Public Service Commission. The commission regulates natural gas pipelines within the state.

“They asked us for almost $14,000 in order to fully review all of the natural gas pipelines in northern Michigan. A regulatory agency oughta have their records in a format that wouldn’t require $14,000 of staff time in order to review so they would be publicly available.”

The Anglers group filed a second – more narrowly defined – request. The commission said that would cost $889 dollars. The Anglers group is planning to pay that. But that’s only going to give them a limited picture of the condition of natural gas pipelines.

The report came out on President’s Day – and neither Enbridge nor the Michigan Public Service Commission were reachable for comment.

I’m Rebecca Williams.

Report: Tar Sands Oil Boosts Pipeline Risks

  • A map of current and proposed oil pipelines carrying raw tar sands oil in the U.S. and Canada. (From the report: Tar Sands Pipelines Safety Risks)

An oil pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy Partners broke last summer. It spilled more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.

A new report warns a corrosive type of oil flowing through pipelines in Michigan might lead to more spills.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She’s one of the report’s authors.

She says the pipeline that broke last summer was carrying raw tar sands oil. It’s also called diluted bitumen.

“Diluted bitumen or the raw tar sands oil is more acidic, it’s more corrosive, it’s very thick so you need high pressure and heat to have it go through a pipe.”

Enbridge did not agree to be recorded for this story. But in an email statement, an Enbridge spokesperson said there can be several different types of crude oil in any of their pipelines at any given time.

Read the report

Response to the report from the Alberta government

NRDC response to the Alberta government


And that the type of crude oil that leaked at Marshall was from the Cold Lake area of Western Canada… which is classified as heavy crude.

The NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz says Enbridge has called tar sands oil by other names in the past.

“In the very first news reports about the Enbridge break, the head of Enbridge himself was denying that this was diluted bitumen, and yet the reports very clearly stated this was oil from the Cold Lake region, where that’s what they produce, they produce raw tar sands oil there. And it’s been since shown in court documents that that’s indeed what this was.”

She says raw tar sands oil is being transported through U.S. pipelines from tar sands mines in Alberta, Canada. She says Canadian refineries are reaching capacity… so oil companies are bringing more raw tar sands oil to U.S. refineries.

“And really what you’ve got is a U.S. pipeline system that was not built and was not regulated for anything other than conventional oil. And when you start putting material into it that is more corrosive and has very different characteristics, it’s not really something our pipelines are prepared for.”

And she says this puts the Great Lakes region at an increased risk that another spill will happen.

The official cause of the Kalamazoo River spill is still under investigation.

In an email statement, an Enbridge spokesperson said tar sands oil is no different from oil transported by other crude oil pipelines. And that their oil pipelines meet all Canadian and U.S. regulations. The spokesperson said the company has quote: “an intensive ongoing pipeline maintenance program.”

This is the Environment Report.

Like most Michigan cites, Grand Rapids’ budget is leaving little room for the extras in life. But Lindsey Smith reports they’re still finding ways to fund the creation of new parks:

Grand Rapids’ director of parks and recreation, Jay Steffen, was excited to address city commission this week.

“When I get up and talk about this park I’m reminded of a song by Joni Mitchell, where she said ‘paved over paradise to put up a parking lot.’ Well we hope to bring paradise back. (laughs)

The city wants to take a 2-and-a-half-acre-parking lot and turn it into, as Jay says, paradise. Pleasant Park would have a rain garden, native shrubs and trees… in a neighborhood that’s one of the most densely populated, with the least amount of green space. That’s why they’re targeting it.

Mayor George Heartwell told city commissioners not to let the $800,000 price tag discourage them.

“We’ve been nothing if not inventive in pulling together resources from the community.”

They’re applying for federal grants usually reserved for low income housing improvements for the park. Nearby neighborhood associations are collecting private donations. The city decides next month if it’ll apply for state grants too.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lindsey Smith.

And that’s the Environment Report for today. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Oil Spill’s Effect on Turtles and Toads

  • David Mifsud releasing a Midland painted turtle after rehabilitation. (Photo courtesy of Herpetological Resource and Management)

Crews are still out on the Kalamazoo River cleaning up oil from last summer’s spill.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Enbridge Energy Partners recently revised its estimate of how much oil spilled from its pipeline into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. They revised it upward to more than 840,000 gallons.

Right now, crews are focusing on cleaning the contaminated soil.

It’s not clear what the long term impacts will be on wildlife.

After the spill, rescue teams collected more than 2,400 birds, mammals, fish and reptiles… and took them to a rehab center to have the oil cleaned off. Most of the animals brought into the center survived.

David Mifsud is a herpetologist. He was hired by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help with the initial wildlife recovery.

He says turtles made up the majority of wildlife rescued from the spill site.

“We had some, their mouths were so tacky with the oil they could barely open their mouths. We saw some pretty devastating things.”

A related news story

A related Environment Report story


He says most of the turtles brought to the rehab center survived and were released within the watershed. But more than 400 of them were too weak to be released before winter. So they’re still being held at the rehab center.

And Mifsud says it’s not clear how hard amphibians were hit by the spill. He says frogs and toads breathe through their skin, so oil… not so good for them.

“Amphibians, we only collected 50-60 animals. They would’ve just died very quickly. So we probably lost in these areas huge numbers of our amphibian populations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to monitor the health of the wildlife and the levels of contamination that remain in the Kalamazoo River area.

It’ll probably take years to fully understand the impacts of the oil spill.


This is the Environment Report.

Sea lampreys are invasive parasites found in every one of the Great Lakes. It’s a fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like trout and salmon… and kills them by drinking their blood.

It costs fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada 20 million dollars a year to control the lamprey.

There’s one secret weapon in development that could eventually save them money… pheromones. Those are odors that male lampreys release to attract the female lampreys.

The lamprey research team in Michigan is starting its third and final year of testing these pheromones in the lab and in the field.

Nick Johnson is a lamprey researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hammond Bay. So Nick, you’re a lamprey matchmaker of sorts?

NJ: (laughs) Of course, yes. I’ve dedicated the last six years to getting lampreys together, not on the spawning nests but into lamprey traps.

RW: Why would you use pheromones?

NJ: Well, pheromones are typically species specific, so they should have minimal impact to other species, they’re highly potent, effective at very low concentrations. So once they’re developed they could be applied relatively cheaply and with little environmental impact.

RW: How’s the testing going so far?

NJ: So far, after two years, traps with synthesized pheromone are capturing more lampreys – right now it’s about 30% more lampreys than the unbaited traps. So we’re encouraged by the results.

RW: Do you think that pheromones will be something of a silver bullet?

NJ: It’s likely that pheromones will not eliminate lampreys from the Great Lakes. What we hope is that the integration of pheromones and the current control techniques will help integrate the overall control program, making our control program more efficient and more effective.

RW: Nick Johnson is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey at Hammond Bay. Thank you so much!

NJ: Thank you, Rebecca.

RW: That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Cleaning Up the Enbridge Oil Spill

  • A Great Blue heron covered in oil. (Photo courtesy of EPA Region 5)

It’s been more than a month since an estimated 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge Energy Partners, the company responsible for the pipeline leak, says it has cleaned up about 700,000 gallons of that oil.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Environmental Protection Agency is just now starting to find out how much oil is at the bottom of the river

Peter Adriaens is an expert on oil spill cleanup, and he has consulted on the cleanups of the Exxon Valdez and first Gulf War oil spills. He’s a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

More on clean-up efforts from the EPA

More on the response from Enbridge Energy Partners

More on Peter Adriaens


Dr. Adriaens, how long do you think it’ll take to clean up this spill?

Adriaens: “So assuming that the 700,000 gallons that they’ve taken out, that that is a correct estimate because clearly what they had was a water oil mixture, so there were some uncertainties in the estimate. Now the cleanup of all the visible oil is probably pretty much completed. So now we get to the point of finding the oil in the sediments and finding where the oil constituents are in the water before that it’s cleaned up. So I mean this could take years.”

RW: Years?

Adriaens: “Yes, months to years.”

The EPA has issued an order to Enbridge. They have until September 27th to clean up all the oil. Is there any way they can possibly meet that deadline?

Adriaens: “I would say that is not feasible. Anything that is visible can probably be cleaned up by the 27th but that is not all the oil.”

How is it decided that the cleanup is done?

Adriaens: “It is a negotiated condition. Cleanup does not mean that everything will be removed from the environment. It means that all the exposure to toxic constituents of the oil has been stopped. And because we will not be able to find necessarily all of that oil I mean people will and kids might at some point in the future find some of these hot spots. We are finding hotspots from spills from a long time ago.”

RW: Kids might be digging in the sand and turn up oil even five, ten years from now?

“That is correct, yes.”

So what does that mean for the safety of recreation on the river?

Adriaens: “After all the visible oil has been cleaned up and after they’ve done the analysis in the water that most of the concentrations of oil, if they can find them in water, are sufficiently low for our exposure, we can probably resume our activities on the river, the boating on the river, the swimming in the river and whatnot. But, anybody who is on the river has to bear in mind that not all the oil is gone, that there will still be some residue even after EPA and the Department of Environmental Quality and everybody else has agreed that the site is cleaned up or contained. There is still residue.”

EPA is still and probably for a few months at least will be assessing the damage to the ecosystem. What’s your sense on what damage has been done?

Adriaens: “Clearly there was impact on wildlife. There was impact on birds. Once the oil sits in the sediments, in the sand of the river, now you start looking at something called bioaccumulation. Every time you go from organism to organism in the whole food chain, there is an accumulation of oil so we don’t know yet what the long term accumulation of that residual oil in the sediment and how that will build up in the local food chain what that will be. We don’t know that yet.”

Peter Adriaens is an expert on oil spill cleanup and a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Michigan.

Thank you so much.

Adriaens: “My pleasure. Thank you.”

That’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Rehab for Oil-Covered Animals

  • A team feeds a bird that's recovering from exposure to the Kalamazoo River oil spill in Michigan. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Canada geese and mallard ducks and turtles and muskrats… covered in oil.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

A lot of birds and animals can get caught up in one million gallons of crude oil. No one knows yet exactly how many birds, mammals, turtles, frogs and fish have been affected by the Kalamazoo oil spill. But more than 90 animals have been brought into a wildlife rehab center in Marshall.

How to volunteer for the cleanup
How to report oil-covered wildlife
More about the oil spill from


More than half of them are Canada geese. There are more than 30 turtles, and there are several muskrats, swans, and mallard ducks.

(construction sounds)

In a matter of days, workers turned this old casino into an animal hospital. When I visited last week, the decontamination room was still under construction. This is where the birds and animals are being washed this week – in Dawn dish soap.

(sound fades under)

When the birds and animals are brought in, they’re first taken to the intake room – that’s what you’d think of as the emergency room. There, the animal caretakers draw blood, and take vital signs. This area is library-quiet. The workers don’t want to bother the animals… and the animals aren’t making much noise either.

Linda Elliott is with Focus Wildlife. It’s a company that specializes in emergency wildlife rehab after oil spills. They’re the group heading up the animal rescue here. She says people sometimes assume you can just bring animals in and clean the oil off. But she says they’re stressed out… and sometimes in big trouble.

“Sometimes we see anemia problems, dehydration, usually because they’ve been oiled they haven’t been feeding in a while so they’re nutritionally deprived. So we need to get that all taken care of before we put them through the process.”

There are veterinarians here and other volunteers… and everyone’s wearing white zip-up Tyvek suits to protect themselves from the oil. The middle room is full of plywood cages covered in white sheets. Across the room, three people are tube-feeding a swan.

Linda Elliott says they’ll feed the birds the same stuff little kids get when they’re dehydrated: Pedialyte and Ensure, both plain and vanilla flavors.

“And then depending on the species a kingfisher loves live fish, and geese, we hope to get them on grains and dry food and greens.”

After the animals are stable, they’ll go through the washing process… and then on to the drying room. Then they’ll go to the outdoor recovery area to get their strength back. Then, when biologists say the animals are ready, they’ll be released.

Linda Elliott says they hope for a 100% survival rate. But it depends on a lot of things… the weather, how quickly the animals were brought in, the type of oil.

“We’ve had responses with 100% success rate and responses where it’s been in the teens but I think this one is looking very good and we’re looking at hopefully having a high success rate here as well but we won’t know until it’s over.”

Two turtles were released to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek yesterday. Biologists are still figuring out where the rest of the animals will be released.

Michael Sertle is a biologist with Ducks Unlimited for Western Michigan. He says it can be tricky to relocate birds, especially Canada Geese.

“There’s numerous studies that show if you move Canada Geese, you can move them states away literally and as soon as they can fly they’ll return right back to the wetland you took them off of, and ducks exhibit those same characteristics not quite as strong as Canada Geese.”

Sertle says hopefully, the oil will be cleaned up by the time the birds try to return home. He’s also concerned about the fall migration. He says all kinds of migratory birds might try to land and look for food on the oil spill site… and even if the spill is largely cleaned up… the birds’ normal food sources might not be there.

Experts say if you see an oiled animal, the best thing you can do is to leave it alone… but call the oil spill hotline and report where you saw it. You can find that number on our website, environment report dot org.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.